Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video.
The Wye has gone down a little since yesterday when I’d have been underwater speaking from here! A few years ago, as a parish priest, we had a bit of a youth worker crisis. Our existing youth worker was leaving at the end of her contract and we had been unable to find a successor. At her exit interview I realised that much of the ministry she had built up would be unsustainable. We didn’t have the volunteers who could work without her co-ordination. As I walked back from the meeting, I must say rather depressed, I went through two stages of praying, stage one was along the lines of, Lord, now would be a good time to come back. Realising that the timing of the Lord’s return was unlikely to be dictated by a need to avoid ministry failure, I quickly moved to stage two. It was simply, Lord you know the needs of this village, you love our young people and want them to come to know you, but I’m sure you know what you are doing, even though it doesn’t much feel like it at the moment. As I walked into the vicarage the phone was ringing. I picked it up to find it was a young man studying for a youth work and theology degree. He was looking for a placement church and had heard we might be looking for someone. Not only did the Lord provide us with a youth worker, but since it was a student placement it didn’t cost us anything other than expenses! I’d never met him before, nor I think advertised for our need of someone. Not only that, but his wife was a gifted musician who transformed our music group.
Its stories and experiences like that that lie behind the call to make 2023 a year of prayer for our diocese. 2 Chronicles 7: 14 says, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” It sounds melodramatic in that characteristic Old Testament way. Our sensitivity to our own sins and failings is rather more muted than theirs was. However, we cannot claim perfection, nor absolute purity either in thought or action. Its often our greatest failings that we are most blind to. The key here is that God’s people were called to pursue both humility and holiness. It was that attitude of heart that would facilitate divine action in their lives and in power to change their circumstances.
The sort of intercessory prayer God commends here is both passionate and dependent. Its an attitude that recognises the reality and desperation of their circumstances and trusts that GOD still has a purpose for them. They remain his people. There is no plan B to win the world other than the Church. It would be very easy to get depressed if we approached the challenges to our continued existence as an institution with a purely strategic mindset. Many organisations would look at the very small numbers of young people in our churches, our financial sustainability and huge burden of infrastructure and call in the receivers. But we don’t do that! We hold on to hope in the work the Lord still has for us to do. We recognise that it has never been about our strategic cleverness, organisational skill, or cultural relevance. If there has been fruitfulness, it has often been because we got out of the way sufficiently to allow God to do something amazing.
Our year of prayer is an opportunity to corporately follow the wisdom of John the Baptist as he watched the growing ministry of Jesus, “he must increase; I must decrease.” As William Temple responded to a cynic who suggested answered prayer was simply co-incidence. “When I pray coincidences happen; when I don’t, they don’t!”
So, I want to encourage us as we begin this year together, to expect co-incidences, to persevere and cultivate that holy dependence that fosters true spiritual community. I pray that at the end of this year we will be both a deeper people and more numerous. I also hope this will not be a project to where we say, “we’ve done it, what’s next.” But that it will be a springboard to even greater and deeper things in 2024 and 2025 and onwards. If my people, who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face…. then I will hear from heaven and I will forgive their sin and heal their land. Lord, may it be so for us.